The punishment


If you’re a regular reader of this column, it might seem to you that 110 Flamingo Street had been the perfect place to grow up — a place where nothing ever went wrong, no one got into trouble, and parents were always forgiving.

Well, I got news for you: things did, we did, and no, they weren’t.

When we got caught doing things we shouldn’t, our parents punished us. I remember the first time Dad told me to march myself outside and pick out a switch. What happened next wasn’t planned, but I’ve never forgotten it.

When it wrapped around my leg, I suddenly realized that picking a flimsy limb off of a weeping willow tree down by Cripple Creek wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Soon, with five kids, Mom and Dad tired of asking us to fetch switches. (Besides, all the trees close to the house were almost limbless.) By the time we’d reached the third grade, they became really creative about punishment. And, I might add, that creativity was extremely effective about correcting our behavior.

Mom and Dad weren’t the only ones that were novel with punishment. When we got into trouble in Old Mrs. Crabtree’s third grade class at Mt. Olive Elementary School, she had different levels of punishment to get our attention.

For a class one infraction, like talking to our friends and not listening to her, we’d stand in the corner with our nose facing the wall. Her room had four corners and she wasn’t afraid to use all of them.

Throw a paper wad at a girl, try to stick a pencil in the ceiling, or remove your nose from the corner without permission, and you, young man, just committed a class two infraction.
For this, your desk would be moved to the front of the room right next to Old Mrs. Crabtree’s. There you would stay for the rest of the day. I considered this a fate worse than death.

Hurl a spitball at Mrs. Crabtree’s blackboard? That’s a class three infraction that earns you and your desk a place in the hallway. She’d come out from time to time to make sure you were doing the assignments and didn’t wander off. Just because you were out in the hall didn’t mean you got out of doing the work.

On many days there was more than one desk lining the walls outside her classroom. She made it plain: if you wanted to misbehave, then you didn’t deserve to be in the room. In the hallway, you would stay until the end of the day.

Yes, I spent my time there and eventually learned. If I wanted to learn, then I had to behave.

A class four infraction was the worst thing a student could do. Down the Street Bully Brad committed those the most, but if I’m honest I did earn one class four.

It was a perfectly aimed milk-soaked spitball shot through the center of the floor globe in the library. It hit Bully Brad right in the face.

The wet projectile earned me an ear drag to Principal Baker’s office by Mrs. Crabtree – also the reputation of being the only person ever to hit Bully Brad with a spitball and not get a pounding.

If one was sent to Principal Baker’s office, there were only two punishments: sit in the office and not say a word until school was over, or the paddle.

Yes, dear reader, back in the day, kids who misbehaved were paddled. Right there in school – this leads us back to my mom and dad.

If we ever got paddled in school, we were punished again when we got home. I realize now that this was wrong, even against the Constitution. It’s called double jeopardy, being punished for the same crime twice.

I would have made this argument to my parents and probably avoided the second punishment, but I didn’t know about double jeopardy. Guess when Old Mrs. Crabtree was teaching that I was either out in the hallway or sitting in Principal Baker’s office.

And what was our punishment when we got home? Dad made us run up and down Flamingo Street. We’d run down the hill, around the cul-de-sac and back up again. Dad thought if we had excessive energy to get into trouble, then we had energy to run. Besides, it would keep us in shape and do one other thing. It would show support for the teacher.

You see, the only house in the cul-de-sac was owned by a third grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary School – Old Mrs. Crabtree.

Side note: we were paddled only when we did something really wrong. We were never beaten. Rugs are beaten, not children.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]